Sunday, May 24, 2015

Session 33 Synopsis

Previously, on Phoenix Rising...
Padraig had lost any semblance of patience at this point and yelled out, "Guards! Seize them and bring me their cards!" Immediately the entrance door was slammed shut from the outside. The guards with the crossbows then began lifting their weapons and the other guards were about to start advancing. And then Zerak got fed up with the whole thing and threw his cards down on the floor and exclaimed, "That's it! I'm done with these." They landed in the middle of the room and everyone's attention went to the three cards.

Zerak was the first to speak. he was visibly upset as he addressed Lord Padraig, then Zola, then Asphodel. He told them that the cards were causing all these strange happenings, that they were dangerous to use, and that trying to use them would be a very bad idea. He tried to plead to Padraig's sense of duty, responsibility, and goodness by telling him that if he used the cards, something like what happened in Gardmore Abbey would most likely happen here as well. Then the guards, their families, and the rest of the people in Winterhaven may end up suffering a terrible fate. He continued by listing out all the creatures they had fought in the small area of the Abbey. Creatures that were all drawn to that area just because of the cards, and if they were used here, then Winterhaven would end up overrun with all those evil creatures as well. Blackwell, then threw his cards onto the floor as well. He also felt that where this was heading was not going to end well and did not want to be a part of it. Kel also spoke up against the use of the cards and that Padraig should think about the fact that the cards have a hold over him forcing their will upon him and that he should really think about putting the cards down. Jobi jumped into the conversation and said that the cards should not be used and that she thought they should be destroyed as well, but admitted that they probably couldn't do it.

This whole time Asphodel was concentrating on the growing pile of cards on the floor and slowly began to inch her way forward in hopes of picking the up. But Zerak picked up the cards before should had a chance to. Then she heard jobi mention something about destroying the cards and reacted instinctively by looking at her while a low, threatening growl escaped her lips. This caused both Jobi and Zerak to tell Asphodel that she was being overtaken by the cards and needed to back down. Asphodel did not move, nor did she stop staring at the two of them either. Then Jobi also decided that she wanted to get rid of her cards as well, but when she went to get them, she couldn't find them. Zerak began asking everyone if they had the cards, but no one admitted to having them. He then turned to Asphodel and asked her directly but she did not answer. Just as he was about to confront her more on this, Lord Padraig, who had a confused look on his face, pulled out his three cards and sat down on the stairs leading up to his raised dais. Zerak immediately began encouraging him to "fight it" and soon Jobi and Kel joined in giving encouraging words to Padraig to help him break the hold the cards had on him. Finally, as if a heavy weight had been lifted off of him, he managed to break free of the cards' influence and clarity came back to his eyes as he slumped forward a bit as if very weary.

Lord Padraig, now back in control of his faculties, seemed truly humbled by the experience. He began, "Oh my friends. Please forgive my actions. It was like a waking dream. I sensed that things were amiss but couldn't, or maybe wouldn't do anything about it. Thank you for putting a stop to my madness without killing me. Those cards have such an allure. I can see now why the Knight Captain at Gardmore Abbey used them. I don't want to keep them here. I know I'm not strong enough to use them without being consumed by them. I'll trust in my skills and my people to keep the area safe. I'm also sorry that I don't actually have the power to grant all the land that I said I would. The power for that lies with the governments of Neverwinter and Waterdeep. I will, however, inform Lord Neverember of how much you've helped us here and I'm sure he will also be grateful for this. But I can and will still honor our trade agreement, Blackwell. Maybe someday I can come and visit you and your growing community. So I will bid you farewell for now. Please take all the cards from here. All I ask is that if you decide to make draws from the Deck that you do it far away from Winterhaven, just in case.

Before the party bid farewell to all their new friends and took their leave of Winterhaven, heading back home to Neverwinter, they returned the sword call Moonbane to Sergeant Murdeggin. He way very happy that the sword was once again useful to the forces of good and rewarded the party with 3,500 gold pieces for bringing it back to him in one piece. He said that it will stay in Winterhaven just in case it was needed again to help protect the community from evil.

Once the party stopped and made camp for the second night of their travel back to Neverwinter, they were faced with a decision that everyone had on their minds since that final meeting with Lord Padraig. Would they assemble the Deck and take draws? they discussed it for a while and in the end decided that luck was in their favor. They assembled the deck by giving all the cards to Asphodel. Once all the cards were in her hand, the deck suddenly emitted a very bright light outwards about a foot in diameter surrounding the cards and Asphodel's hands then quickly faded out. She no longer felt the obsession to gather all the cards together and was now completely in control of any decisions she was to make concerning The Deck of Many Things.

At that moment, inside a very different consciousness...
I am happy. I'm very happy with the whole situation from the moment the funny little girl in the dragon suit picked up that first card from that idiot human who had it sequestered away in some dungeon. What was it's name? Zarr I think it called itself. Should have been named Moron or Idiot-boy. I was even happier that her five friends helped her gather up all the other cards from their scattered places and from their former stick-in-the-mud owners. Then that one said the "D" word - destroy - and Pandemonium came to visit! It was glorious, glorious fun! Like any mortal can actually destroy me. Ludicrous, but very amusing, I must say. And to think the suggestion came from a kindred spirit - kind of strange, but who am I to judge. In the end, they obliged me and reassembled all my cards, just like everyone else had for... well, forever. They always do. Must be my irresistible charm and good looks. This time though, it was different for they all worked together to assemble me. It was kind of refreshing to have so many work on my behalf at the same time without murdering each other. I must commend them for that, it seems only fitting. They have given me my true purpose back so I must reward them all. Even now the little girl knows that she can not keep me forever, no one can. I need to let her know though that I am very happy with her and her friends. I'd like for them to benefit from knowing me because I've enjoyed their company so much, daresay I to call them... my friends? In the true fashion of a reward, I'll give her friends two card draws and they can pick which one they like, and little dragon suit girl can have three to pick from. Then, alas, this chapter for me comes to an end, which is a bit sad. I haven't had this much fun in centuries. I really hope they do well for themselves. I wonder if I will miss them...

Asphodel told the others what she had "heard" in her head and then began shuffling the deck of cards in preparation for giving "readings" to everyone that wanted one...

Blackwell drew The Flames Card and The Rogue Card. Unfortunately both cards had bad results so Blackwell took the lesser and chose The Flames Card. He is now expecting to see some attacks against him from some unknown powerful being that now has a grugde to settle for some reason begin within the next couple of fortnights.

Zerak drew The Ruin Card and the Talons card. Again the Deck dealt out two bad cards and Zerak chose the lesser of the bads by choosing the Ruin card. He immediately lost all non-magical wealth and items and stood before the group naked except for this magical cloak. Blackwell gave him a set of clothes to use till the party made it back to Neverwinter so he could buy some more. Of course, Zerak had also lost all his money so some of the party members decided to chip in and give Zerak some money to get him by.

Kel drew the Vizier card and the Skull card. This time, the choice was very clear. Kel avoided a potentially disastrous fight that the Skull Card promised and chose The Vizier Card and gained the answer to any one question she has within the next year.

Jobi drew The Jester Card and the Skull card. Again, a clear choice about not taking The Skull Card, but The Jester Card also offered two choices itself. She could either accept a gift of 10,000 experience points or a "gift" of drawing two more cards. Not being an extreme gambler with Fate, Jobi chose to take the experience points.

Zola drew The Key Card and the Void Card. This was another no-brainer choice, since The Void Card would have made Zola comatose with her soul imprisioned somewhere the party would have to go find and fight to release. The Key Card granted her a major magical item and it just so happened that her morning star was re-imbued with its magical attack powers and the disruption ability. She now had the weapon that her father had given her back to full power.

And finally Asphodel drew the Trhone Card, The Jester card, and the Void Card. Once again, The Void Card was dismissed out of hand. But Asphodel had a real choice of benefits here with The Jester Card offering the experience points or two more cards and The Throne Card that offered a castle to be granted to her. She thought about it for quite a while and ended up choosing the castle. She decided to have it placed bordering Blackwell's land near the sea about a hlf day's journey south of Neverwinter.

And when Asphodel's choice was final, the Deck began to emit a bright light and then vanished from her hands, never to be seen on this world again. the rest of the journey back to Neverwinter went by uneventfully. Back in town, everyone decided to get some shopping done adn some other personal agenda items. Jobi went to Mordai Vell's estate along with Zerak and retreived all her belongings and basically gave him the "we're done" speech. Mordai was saddened but very gracious and understanding and they left his estate without any incident. Now Jobi joined the rest of our heroes in living at the Bloated Float Tavern and Inn for the meantime, since where her house had been is now a part of the Spellplague Chasm / sinkholes. Blackwell decided that he needed to work on his gunsmithing and created/upgraded his weapons and ammunition, along with several kegs of black powder. He had also paid to have his new guns enchanted by a local wizard. They also were able to sell off the magical gear they had collected from the final battles in Gardmore Abbey and everyone gained a nice some of coin from it, which definitely pleased Zerak, who up until then, was living on donated funds.

A few days of rest and relaxation did everyone a world of good. One evening in the Bloated Float bar, the waitress came over to Zerak and handed him a note saying that a man gave it to her to give to him. The note said, “Please meet me outside in back of the Stables. I represent Regis Freemantle's employer.” And it was signed Montreau. So Zerak told the rest of the party and with some trepidation they all went out to meet whoever sent the note. When they arrived at the designated meeting place, they found a person dressed all in black and it was impossible to actually get a look at his face since the cowl on his cloak was very long. He had a deep voice, though a bit on the airy side, and spoke somewhat slowly and deliberately. “Greetings, to you and your friends. I am Montreau. My mistress sends her regards and would like to speak with you. She is aware of your efforts on behalf of Regis and other matters here in Neverwinter and abroad and would like to discuss them with you. There is a small compound, named Blackstone Keep, about a day’s journey southeast of Neverwinter in the Neverwinter Woods. It is near where the King’s Road has a four way intersection – south heads towards Waterdeep, east heads towards Winterhaven, and the much lesser used route north is the one that will take you to the keep. You will have to look carefully for it for it is not marked, most see the area as a three way intersection. Wear these pins on your chests starting at the intersection and you will be greeted peacefully as guests.” He held a small leather bag in his hand and offered it to Zerak. He was wearing black gloves that left no skin showing. The party did a detect evil and detect magic spell on this person and saw that he was not evil and that the bag was not radiating as magic. So Zerak took the bag from him. Montreau then bowed, said good bye, turned, and left.

They did a quick look in the library to see if they could find out anything about Blackstone Keep. But all they found out was that it was an ancient Thayan outpost that was abandoned centuries ago. So our heroes left in the morning and followed the directions. they found the northern path, little more than a goat trail here and put their pins on before proceeding. Soon they came upon a part of the woods that seemed to be a little off. The trees were a bit blackened, the dirt was not quite the right color, and the wind seemed to avoid this entire area. After about a quarter day, they reached the site of Blackstone Keep. It was situated in a clearing – no trees or anything else to hide behind was present for at least a thousand feet around the black walls. There were eight towers along the walls, one in each corner and one in the center of each wall, with each tower about another 30 feet taller than the walls, which are also around 30 feet tall and span at least 500 feet in each direction. The gates were closed and there were four individuals standing outside the gates. They were dressed in black with crimson cloaks and were all human and very well armed. When the party approached, the guards stepped aside of the gates and bowed to them, never taking their eyes off of the party, while the gates swung slowly outward. The gate tunnel was about 30 feet long or so and was a pretty standard design with murder holes in the ceiling and arrow slits along the walls. The inside gates slowly started to open into the tunnel as they passed by the outer gates, which started to close, and they saw four more humans dressed the same way just inside the inner gates.

When our stalwart band had entered the keep proper, the guard in the (left) middle said, “Greetings. The mistress has been expecting you. Please follow me.” Looking around, they saw a couple small outbuildings, also made of the same strange black block stone but no other people inside the compound. Around the wall, however, there were many fully armed and armored guards, all wearing the same crimson cloaks. And as they walked to the keep’s front doors, they were able to count about 15 guards per wall section. The keep is also made of black stone and the doors are some type of black metal. As they approached the keep’s front doors, these doors also slowly and silently swung outwards, just like the main gates. They walked up the black stone stairs and into the entrance chamber. It looked and felt old, very old, but the structure seemed sound and very well built. As they passed through the chamber they saw guards in suits of armor lining the left and right walls, ten to a side, all polished and gleaming in the dim light. Each was holding a two-handed sword by the pommel, point down on the ground. The suits looked very archaic and ornate compared to the ones you've seen in the shops in Neverwinter and they all have the same strange crest on the breastplates which they were able to recognize as Thayan from the time before the current government some four hundred years old or so.

The party continued to follow their escorts into what appeared to be the main hall of the keep. It too was very ornate with wall carvings and similar armed guards standing inside alcoves along the two long walls. These ones were holding halberds, and there are 24 of them here, twelve per wall. There were also a number of people in here as well, possibly around twenty. They were all wearing the same type of garb as your escorts, black leather or black robes and crimson cloaks. There was a dais at the far end of the chamber that went up by 4 steps to three large ornamental chairs, not unlike thrones, but not nearly so audacious looking. On the floor in front of the dais was a long wooden table with a dozen chairs on each side, gold place settings, and crystal goblets like a banquet was planned. Upon the dais in the two chairs on either side of the center chair were one human male on the left side and one elven female on the right side both of indeterminate age but obviously confident in themselves. They too were clothed in a similar manner as the rest of the people here but more opulently, and in the case of the elven woman, more scantily. The person in the center chair was not really visible due to the shadows and the chair itself was a little further back from the other two. The escorts suddenly stopped in unison and the man who spoke to the party before, now spoke again, “Greetings, Mistress. I present to you Zerak Brunleaf, Kel Crownsilver, Asphodel, Zolanorateal, Jobi, and Blackwell.” He then turned back to you and said, “May I present to you, Valindra Shadowmantle, mistress of Blackstone Keep.” And with that the four escorts parted and backed up to be in line with the rest of the people off to the sides.

Then the person in the middle chair got up and walked forward as she began to speak in a very melodic and pleasing voice, “Welcome, honored guests. I am so glad that you decided to make the journey and meet with us.” She continued as she indicated the two people next to her, “Seated next to me are my two advisers, Morphus and Zereena.” As she finished her sentence, you got your first good look at her. Valindra was wearing a very expensive looking crimson cloak, most likely some sort of silk, and a very revealing leather bodice and leather thigh boots adorned with what can only be diamonds and gold trim glittering in the dim light. She is very well proportioned and tall with long golden blonde hair that shows highlights of white and honey. Her elven features and form show great beauty and she looks to be in her prime (She's absolutely gorgeous). Her skin does look a bit pale with a slight grey tinge to it though, coloring unusual for an elf. But her eyes are a very bright green, almost unnaturally so, and reveal a much older and wiser intellect than her body suggests. She has a commanding presence and projects an air of confidence, authority, and power. She walked down from the raised platform and approached the party and continued, "I wish to help you and wish for your help as well, for we have a common enemy that neither of us can handle on our own. I propose an alliance between you and us against Netheril. Please just hear me… oh my! Montreau! Quickly, assist her!”

Upon hearing the word “Netheril,” Asphodel got a sudden burning sensation from her amulet and the all too familiar pain of the experiments done to her during her captivity intensely shooting through her body, causing her to drop to her hands and knees, and loose her breath. Her eidolon was dismissed in a second. She momentarily went unconscious.

Montreau and several others came quickly to Asphodel and Zola gently lifted her onto the table. One servant had water, and another some towels. She awoke shortly and was visibly shaken by what she just experienced and the pain lingered on like skin being raked by many small needles. Montreau looked back to Valindra and gave a quick nod. Valindra then said, “I've seen this before. Even just hearing the name of our common enemy has the power to bring out dark, repressed memories for those who have experienced… personal attention from the Netherese. I apologize, Apshodel. I did not realize that you had not heard their name before now, otherwise I would have prepared you.” Another servant came into the room with a tray containing 2 vials and an empty glass to Valindra. She took the two vials and poured them into the glass and gently mixed them together. “Here, Asphodel, drink this. It will help ease the pain and calm your nerves. It is a mixture of local herbs and whiskey. You can thank Zerak’s ancestors for this old family remedy. As I was saying, I propose an alliance between you and us against Netheril. Please… just hear me out before you make any decisions.”

“For centuries we and Netheril have been at war in the Shadowfell, that nether-plane where the Netherese found themselves banished to millennia ago. But the Spellplague opened a rift between the Shadowfell and our plane that has allowed them to come back and begin aggressions towards everyone anew. And they work tirelessly to raise their ancient flying cities of death and destruction that were destroyed a millennia ago. They are currently trying to fix Xinlenal, the first enclave. And once they raise that city they will start working on the next one until all six of them are brought back from destruction. So far, we have been the only ones working against Netheril, trying to stop them and send them back to their imprisonment. But now we know we need help, for the Netherese are slowly gaining allies in this world through their honeyed lies, bribes, and gifts of deceit. And each one of you has a personal stake in this conflict even if you are not aware of it. Let me explain.” Then Valindra addressed each one of the heroes... (Note: these are a bit more elaborate than at game time due to time constraints. Please read them and you'll probably have more questions for Valindra)

“Help us defeat Netheril, Asphodel. All they want to do is use wizards as mindless power sources and destroy magic items and relics to power their flying cities so they can once again subjugate and enslave the world. Think what happens if they succeed. Do you want others to be enslaved and tortured like you and your mother and father were? We are not your enemies. We desire nothing more than to uplift the unique nature of all, so everyone can fulfill their own destinies, wherever those choices take them. And, if that destiny includes the wonderful transformation into the un-living, then we are here to help guide them. Whatever anyone chooses, that is their choice to make, ours to respect and not to interfere with. The Netherese don’t respect anyone but themselves. Everyone else is just a slave or a tool to use – that would be the fate of everyone. You know this to be true for you have already felt it. Help us end their threat.”

“Blackwell, you too know their corrupting and evil touch for the Netherese have corrupted your entire tribe, and caused the deaths of your family and all who opposed them. They use your former pack mates that didn't escape or get murdered to search for and gather the magic items that they’ll destroy to fuel their flying cities. Surely, your pack deserves to have its honor restored and your family’s deaths avenged. They see your kind as nothing more than beasts of burden; only useful for as long as you can carry your own weight in some menial tasks. But that’s not what we see. That’s not what I see. I see creatures of great magical and earthly power. I see someone who is one with nature and one with the magic of nature. Your kind should be celebrated by others, not hunted down like common beasts. You understand the balance between nature and man like no others can. Take pride in your mastery of the wild forces of nature. Don’t be one to hide your true nature from others, let them see and celebrate the diversities of life with you. Help us defeat these murderous interlopers and we’ll help you restore your pack’s honor and pride!”

“And Jobi, don’t believe the gilded lies you heard from Mordai Vell, the leader of the Ashmadai cult here in the North, for those simpleton devil worshipers don’t even realize they are just slaves of Asmodeus and have no free will of their own. Your destiny should be your own making, not assigned to you by some devil resting on his ass in the Nine Hells. Plus his cult is working to usurp the true ruler of Neverwinter, something that would be a great blow against us and all free people. You now worship Sarenrae, a peaceful and loving goddess with noble ideals indeed. She works towards the destruction of all the evil undead in the multiverse. And this is what we do as well. The evil ways used to create undead are the very sources we despise and attack with our research! Netheril will never offer anyone freedom or justice or peace to do as one pleases, nor will the Ashmadai. Both continue to shed unimaginable amounts of blood to create their undead soldiers and work slaves to death. They only seek to enslave us all. Join us and we can bring freedom from them to everyone!”

“Zola, you've seen how the immortals make the rules for everyone else; how they force their will upon others and don’t take any of the blame themselves. They cast you out for not following their rules! But that is far from the real truth for someone close to you has ties to the Netherese. I do not know who exactly that person is but corrupt celestials are mixed up in this war and have caused or are causing great mischief for the forces of good. Work with us, with me, and we can unravel the mystery of why you have been scorned and who is behind the subterfuge."

“And Kel, you’re such a strong woman determined not to do what the others in an oppressive society expect you to do. You’re a woman after my own heart. Independent, free, and caring, yet not afraid to do what needs to be done to achieve your goals. I admire those qualities and see that you are a lot like me. Imagine how oppressive a society dominated by the Netherese would be. Entire families, towns, cities, and even nations, murdered only to walk again as mindless slaves an all because taking care of the living is too much trouble and costs too much effort. They've done it before – I've seen it happen – and they will do it again when it suits them. There is no regard for life, or freedom in Netherese society. We would all be doomed to a fate not of our choosing, including your homeland of Cormyr, great as it is would fall, and there wouldn't be anything we’d be able to do about it. That’s why we need people like you to lead the charge; to stand up and say, ‘No More! This ends here! This ends now!’”

“And last but not least, little Zerak, well, not so little now. My you've grown up well, so handsome and intelligent. The last time I saw you, you were only a small child no older than a tadpole. Your parents were so proud of you, their newborn baby, and with good reason. They also saw the great power potential in you. You’re part of a long and storied line of powerful wizards, sorcerers, and witches. Did they ever tell you about your family’s history? No, I suppose they didn't. That’s not your family’s way. I've been in your family’s lives for quite a while now, ever since I gave my good friend, your great-great-great-great-great grandmother Lucinda… was that four or five greats? Oh no matter, time has a way of blurring after a while. As I was saying, I've been in your family’s lives ever since I gave Priscilla to Lucinda. And I suspect that you’ve had dreams for a long time now about what some would call… disturbing topics. You’re akin to us in Thay. Only the ones who truly desire and deserve, many of whom are in your family, hear Szass Tam’s calls – the dreams about everlasting life and power. That’s what has brought you back to me for I am an agent of Thay. I am the Hand of Szass Tam, second in command, if you will. I can help you fulfill your destiny to become what you truly want to be, but I need your help too. You see, Regis is a fool. He tried to trick you into getting something we needed for our research by claiming it was something else. With me, you’ll get no such ridiculous games. And if you are not one to play games either, as I believe you are, then, my dear, we can have a great relationship together.” She’s been slowly walking around you very closely and when she puts her hands gently on your shoulders from behind you, you can feel her power tingle through your skin, and she has a very intoxicating fragrance about her as well – subtle, yet very powerful and alluring. She continues, “As a token of good faith, I’ll tell you that your true ancestral name is not Brunleaf. It is Ruunleit. That is why you are having issues researching the past.” Now facing you, she leans in close and you feel Valindra’s face nearly touching yours as she whispers in your ear while gently touching your shoulders with her cool, electrifying, touch, “Come… Help me defeat our common enemy and then let’s discover the power you deserve, together!”

“I believe that Fate has brought us all together for each of has a personal stake in the defeat of the Netherese. I've been following your adventuring careers and I am convinced that you are the allies we need in order to win the war. Despite everything you've heard of the nation of Thay, I tell you now that we as a nation have changed for the better. So please, consider my offer of alliance. You have shown to be a capable band of heroes that can get things done where much larger forces fail. Don’t give your answer now, but instead please see for yourselves what is going on. It’s important that you see it first hand before you decide so you know what we’re up against. I have found the location of Xinlenal and can provide you a map so you can travel there and see the evil first hand. Go there and see what they are doing across the lands. And then come back and tell me you answer. I’m sure that once you see the horrors that the civilized world is facing, you will say yes to our partnership. But for now, please stay with us for the night and dine with us. We’ll talk and I’ll answer any questions you have. You can head out in the morning with fresh horses and supplies.”

The party had asked only a couple questions so far. Zerak asked about his father and Valindra sai he was really of no consequence, that all the power in his family comes from his mother's side. Zola was truly perplexed by Valindra's statements about her and her family and couldn't form any questions at the moment. Asphodel asked how they knew about her father and mother. Valindra stated taht they had raided a Netherese experimentation facility when she and they were being held - in fact they were able to escape because of Valindra's attack on that facility and they had recovered the documents that the Netherese kept on all subjects at that place. She would share those documents with Asphodel.

We leave our heroes sitting down to dine with Valindra and her associates and will continue with the discussions over dinner and the journey to Xinlenal next game session.

Stay tuned for the next exciting season when we will continue our exciting adventures when our heroes investigate what the Netherese are really doing. Will they decide to align themselves with Valindra and help a growing war effort against the Netherese infidels? Will Asphodel start to get answers about her previous life of captivity? What will Zerak do now that he knows his ancestors have been steeped in necromancy and have had ties to the nation of Thay for many generations - will he follow in their footsteps, make a new path, or take Valindra up on her offer? Will Blackwell finally get vengeance for the deaths of his family and fellow tribesme... uh, pack-mates? Does Jobi decide that she must do something about Mordai Vell and Neverwinter, her home for the past decade - the only truly "stable" home she has had? What did Valindra mean when she spoke about the usurping of the true Neverwinter ruler? And what does Zerak's original family name have to do with Neverwinter and the Orpheus Stone? What will Kel do? Will she take up the mantle of freedom fighter and help put down another repressive regime. Will Zola be able to come to grips that someone in her family may be mixed up with the nation of Netheril and what does it have to do with her casting out? Does the good of the many really justify the means to an end? So many questions... so many decisions... so many different paths ahead...


  1. Part 1: Some suggestive content. You have been warned!
    A chorus of chatter mixed with the clinking of silverware filled the candlelit dining hall of the Moonstone Mask. The masked waitresses strode through crowd as they carried the evening meals to the patrons, more than a few deftly skirting the fingers of the more crass diners whose amorous hands only felt the soft fabric of their black gowns. In a table over to the side sat two figures talking quietly over their meals. The horned tiefling listened to her companion as she ate her lamb and rice, enjoying the savory meat much more than the trail rations they had feasted upon for the better part of the past the month. The thin half-elf sat with his arms folded above his salad, a smile small on his face as he spoke.

    “So after spending the fortnight practicing with this bow, Valandil came up to me one night fairly meekly. ‘Hey, Zerak, you know those scrolls we were supposed to read for symposium tomorrow?’ ‘Yes, what about them?’ I replied. ‘I’m a little behind. Can you go over some of them with me?’ he asked. I stared at him blankly. ‘Which ones.’ ‘…All of them?’”

    Jobi laugh softly. “Well,” she responded as Zerak took another bite from his meal, “Did you?”

    Zerak sighed as he chewed on a mouthful of crisp greens. “Stayed up all night going over every little bit with him. I ended up making another scroll just to outline everything. Then the discussions the next day rolled around…. And I’ll be a kobold’s uncle if the school master didn’t praise his insight more than mine!”

    To this Jobi let out a loud burst of laughter, then quickly quieted herself as she saw the other patrons turn to stare at her. Zerak smirked as he saw her blush, half-convinced even her horn was turning red.

    “That’s far from my last Valandil story.”

    “Oh, gods,” Jobi replied, “What else did he do?”

    “Well, by now you gathered that his first love was his bow,” Jobi nodded and Zerak continued, “Well, in my village at the changing of every season the school master would send progress reports out to all the families with how the youths were doing in their studies. One particular summer Valandil completely neglected off his studies in order to practice for this huge semi-centurial archery tournament. Then he found out the progress reports would be sent out the day before the tournament and matriarch of his family was going to force his parents to stop him from participating as she had in writing his poor performances that season.”

    “Oh dear,” Jobi replied, “So what did he do?”

    Zerak smirked, “He snuck into the school building the night before…”

    “He stole his before they went out?”

    “Of course not,” Zerak’s smirked widened, “If his was the only one missing then they would know it was his. He stole every single report for every single student.”

    Jobi’s eyes widened to match her friend’s smirk, then she burst out laughing again. After a few moments she composed herself again. A few quiet minutes of dining passed between them before she spoke again.

    “I am certain you have to have one or two stories of your own antics.”

    Zerak paused and stared into space for a moment, then grinned. “Yeah, I have one. Once during a fair one of my school mates left behind her copper and couldn’t buy any treats at the fair grounds. So I told her, ’I’ll loan 5 copper today if you pay me back a silver tomorrow.” He paused as Jobi dropped her fork, then continued, “The next day she came to me and said she didn’t have any silver pieces, just a gold, so I took that.”

    Zerak looked up and saw Jobi staring at in his direction with a mix of horror and admiration.

    “That afternoon my uncle noticed I had a gold piece, one thing led to another, and that night I was part of a nice conversation with my uncle, my mother, my school mate, and her parents about how that my mother was not raising a dwarf and in the future if her daughter ever needed coins that I would be more than willing to loan her some without any extra repayment needed.”

  2. Part 2:
    “Oh… my… gods…” Jobi covered her face in a futile effort to hold in the laughter. She was saved by their waitress who had arrived to take their dinner plates and to bring them both orange custards.

    “How about you? You have any stories?” Zerak asked after trying out the dish.

    “Mmmh,” Jobi replied, “Well… When I was in the harem… my closest friend was an unusually beautiful harpy named Roxelana. And she was fearless. Well, sometimes we could depart the Oda for short periods to travel to another room in the palace… as long as we had a writ from the eunuch and we were there when Master Najid wanted us. For awhile we had a rather dim witted orc guarding us. When he started he had us write our own writs. Roxelana figured out quickly that he was illiterate.”

    Zerak nodded as he sat back a bit.

    “Well, one day, she went to get the writ signed, then came back with a sly grin on her face. I asked her what was so funny. Then she showed me what the oaf had signed off on.”

    She took a bite of the custard.

    “’To streak the halls of the palace forever in accordance to prophecy and if anyone asks its none of their business.‘”

    Zerak almost fell out of his chair the fit of laughter overtook him.

    “How did Najid take that?”

    “Well,” Jobi said, “The orc was moved to having to clean the stables… as for Roxelana…” Jobi grinned, “He enjoyed the show. He made the Streaking of the Harem a monthly event.”

    “Ha! That would be a sight worth seeing… er, I mean…”

    Jobi smiled softly and reached out to Zerak. Zerak looked down as she gently patted his hand.

    “It’s alright,” she said with a wink.


    The two walked through the streets of Neverwinter under the night sky. They nodded to a few passerbyers who recognized them as they made their way towards the Bloated Float. The two turned to face each other before they entered the inn.

    “Well, Zerak,” Jobi said, “That was lovely. Thank you.”

    He smiled in returned, “Thank you, for going out with me. I had good time as well.”

    Jobi took a step forward and put her arms around him. Zerak froze in place as she kissed his cheek. She stepped away and giggled a bit at the dazed expression on his face.

    “Well, while you stay out here like an idiot, attracting muggers, which you can ill afford aright now…”

    Zerak slowly came back to reality “…That… was a low blow.”

    “Anyway,” Jobi replied, “I need to go and—unpack.”

    “Need help?” Zerak asked.

    “…I suppose.”


    Zerak stared at the opened boxes and belongings strewn across the floor of the inn room.

    “And didn’t most of your things get destroyed with your old home?” he asked as he tried to sort the outfits.

    “Well, I had time to buy a new wardrobe,” she sighed, “And I’m starting to believe that Mordai Vell may have been behind that.”

    “Possibility,” Zerak replied, “In truth, I thought for awhile he might have been involved with the cards… hey, I remember this one!” Zerak lifted up one of Jobi’s dancing outfits, “You were wearing this when we were investigating the murders that led us to that spellplague infected aboleth!”

    “Oh, gods,” Jobi replied, “I remember that… fell flat on my horn at least twice.”

    “So unfortunate,” Zerak said, “I always enjoy your performances.”

    “Well,” Jobi said with a grin, “Would you like a private show?”

    Zerak’s eyes went wide as he watched her secure the lock on the door. “Are… are you serious?”

    Jobi winked, “Turn around and take a seat while I get dressed…”

    Zerak nodded wordlessly as he spun and plopped down breathlessly in a chair.

    “Alright,” Jobi said after a few moments, “Turn around.”

  3. Part 3:

    Zerak took a deep breath and turned. Jobi stood before him in her dancing outfit. The sepia colored skin of her leg stuck out from the slit of the crimson silk of skirt as her hands glided over her exposed belly. Jobi smiled from behind her thin veil as she saw the mesmerized look in Zerak’s eyes. Without a word she began to sway her hips from side to side as she lifted her arms over head. The blue fringes moved with body as her one of her hands slid down the opposite arm. The silver on the sash on her waist clicked as if they were the metallic chirps of the white doves sewn on her outfit. The dance continued for several silent moments. Jobi watched his eyes following her every move, his body almost perfectly still.

    “Well,” Jobi finally said, “What are you thinking?”

    “I… I think,” Zerak said, “I…”

    In the blink of an instance Zerak was on his feet, one arm around her body and the hand of his other arm pushing the veil away from her face. He fiercely kissed a surprised Jobi. Then almost as quickly he jerked away.

    “I… I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. I…” he turned to the door, “I had best leave.”

    Jobi grabbed his arm and spun him around to face her. Before he could react she thrown her arms around him and sealed her to his lips in another passionate kiss. Without separating the two staggered towards her bed and fell over.


    Jobi opened her eyes and stretched her arms over her head. She sighed contently and turned to face Zerak lying beside her. He laid on his back with his hands together over his stomach. He had again surprised her. In the past all of her lovers were always more concerned with their own enjoyment than hers. Tonight was the first time in a long time, if not ever, that a partner had placed her pleasure above their own. As she looked over his body she noticed a red circle around his left arm. She sighed again. She thought back to when the beholder had closed its maw around his arm. She still wanted to pound her fists upon his chest over that one. Idiot. She reached out and carefully stroke the scar on his arm. A brave idiot, but still an idiot—

    “That was a mistake,” Zerak said softly without looking at her.

    “Foolish, maybe, but I would hardly call it a mistake… it was rather brave—”

    Zerak turned and looked at her, then glanced at her eyes on his scar. He sighed sadly and shook his head.

    “No, I mean, this, just now…” Zerak closed his eyes. “What we just did… I best go,” he said as he began to rise

    Jobi grabbed his arm. “Stop. It was wonderful… why would you think…?”

    Zerak fell back onto the bed and sighed again, “I didn’t want things to go this way tonight. I wanted… I…”

    “Zerak. At this point I think we can be frank.”

    Zerak turned onto his side and look at Jobi in the eyes.

    “Jobi, I love you.”

    Jobi blinked. She responded flatly, “What.”

    “Well, then, let me be frank then. I love you. I love that horn on your head. I love it that half the time you can’t dance without a mishap. I love the fact that you still panic whenever we go into combat. I love that wrinkle you get between your eyes when you think I’m crazy. I love that I can smell your perfume on my robes at the end of day and I love that you’ve made me want to be a better person each day I’ve known you.”

    Jobi blinked again. She responded flatly again, “What.”

    Zerak closed his eyes and nodded, “Yeah. I suppose that’s what I would say too… again, I’d best go,” he began to rise again.

  4. Part 4:

    “No, Zerak, wait,” Jobi reached out and pulled Zerak back down to the bed, “I… I don’t know if I really know if I’ve felt love, or if I will… but,” Jobi stroked his cheek softly as she saw the soft look in his eyes, “But I know I care for you. And I am beginning to really enjoy your company.”

    “Well,” Zerak said softly, “I guess… I guess we’ll just see how things go?”

    “I think the term is, ‘going steady’,” Jobi smiled.

    Zerak smiled back and put his arms around her, “Well, I guess that will work.”

    After a moment he spoke again, “’Beginning to really enjoy’?”

    “Well, yes,” she replied with a sly grin, “Especially if tonight was any indication.”

    “Well then,” he smirked as he hand moved down. Jobi gasped in surprise, “How about round two?”